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Click here to get real-time weather reports during planting season. Mississippi State University is an equal opportunity institution. 2016 Mississippi State University Extension Service. Follow the link for more information. The Jacob is a British breed of domestic sheep.
The Jacob was kept for centuries as a “park sheep”, to ornament the large estates of landowners. In modern times it is reared mainly for wool, meat and skins. The origins of the Jacob are not known. It has been bred in the British Isles for several hundred years.
In the de Tabley family, the tradition was that the piebald sheep had come ashore in Ireland from a wrecked ship of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and been brought to England by Sir John Byrne on his marriage. Among the many accounts of ancient breeds of piebald sheep is the story of Jacob from the first book of the Hebrew Bible, called by Christians the Old Testament. Some believe that the modern breed is actually the same one mentioned in the Bible, having accompanied the westward expansion of human civilisation through Northern Africa, Sicily, Spain and eventually England. The Jacob was referred to as the “Spanish sheep” for much of its early recorded history. A breed society, the Jacob Sheep Society, was formed in July 1969.
Jacobs were first exported to North America in the early 20th century. In 2012 the total Jacob population in the UK was reported to the DAD-IS database of the FAO as 5638, of which 2349 were registered breeding ewes. The Jacob is a small, multi-horned, piebald sheep that resembles a goat in its conformation. However, it is not the only breed that can produce polycerate or piebald offspring. The body frame is long, with a straight back and a rump that slopes toward the base of the tail.
The most distinguishing features of the Jacob are their four horns, although they may have as few as two or as many as six. Ideally, horns are smooth and balanced, strongly attached to the skull, and grow in a way that does not impede the animal’s sight or grazing abilities. Rams have larger horns than ewes. The horns in two-horned sheep, and the lower horns in four-horned animals, grow in a spiral shape.
Each Jacob has distinctive markings that enable the shepherd to identify specific sheep from a distance. Breed specific markings include large, symmetrical dark patches incorporating the ears, eyes and cheeks, and a dark cape over the dorsal part of the neck and shoulders. The face should have a white blaze extending from the poll to the muzzle. The muzzle itself should be dark.
Several rare or unusual diseases have been identified in Jacob sheep. The condition known as split eyelid is a congenital defect common to several polycerate British breeds, and is genetically linked to the multi-horned trait. In mild cases, the eyelid shows a “peak” but does not impair vision or cause discomfort. Sachs disease in four Jacob lambs. Such breeds have been left to mate amongst themselves, often for centuries, and therefore retain much of their original wildness and physical characteristics. Jacobs are typically hardy, low-maintenance animals with a naturally high resistance to parasites and hoof problems.
Jacobs do not show much flocking behaviour. Due to their low tail dock and generally unimproved anatomy, Jacob ewes are widely reputed to be easy-lambing. Jacobs are seasonal breeders, with ewes generally cycling in the cooler months of the autumn. They will begin to cycle during the first autumn following their birth and most often the ewe’s first lamb is a single.